CfP:Mental load, what is it, how do we measure it, and what are its outcomes?

October 2, 2019

CfP for the 2020 Work Families Researchers Network Conference session: Mental load, what is it, how do we measure it, and what are its outcomes?

Session organisers: Heejung
Chung (University of Kent, UK), Anke Plagnol (City, University of London, UK), Shireen
Kanji (Brunel University, UK)

In May 2017, the Guardian
published a cartoon drawn by a French Cartoonist, Emma on the concept
of couples’ division of the mental load
. It struck a chord with the
public, shared more than half a million times and started a debate on the
inequality between genders in the domestic work of household management which
has been largely unmeasured (Daminger, 2019). It has become especially important to measure and
thus make visible this load as an aspect of domestic labour in light of the narrowing
of the gap in the amount of time men and women spend on more routinely measured
aspects of domestic labour such as cooking, laundry and shopping.  Despite the reduced gap in couples’ division
of unpaid labour and men’s interest in being more involved in childcare-related
domestic labour (Working Families, 2017), many believe that household responsibilities
continue to lie with the mother, grounded in gender essentialist attitudes
towards women’s nurturing roles (Scarborough et al., 2018). This responsibility in many cases relates to who
manages who does what and when. Such cognitive/mental workload is important to
observe, given that in addition to actual physical workload, time pressure, one
aspect of the mental load, is a crucial determinant of mothers’ mental stress
levels (Ruppanner et al., 2018). Furthermore, to enable gender parity in the
workplace, gender equality in the household is crucial and needs to include the
mental/cognitive load in addition to other forms of unpaid labour division
between couples. It is possible that a high mental/cognitive load resulting
from household obligations distracts from paid work and thus may hinder women’s
career prospects.

This session
invites papers that examine the mental load from various perspectives.

can include

  • What types of mental load are out there – are there more “feminine” vs “masculine” tasks?
  • How can we measure the mental load empirically, can we develop a concrete measure that can be used across countries, life cycles, and family types?
  • What are the determinants of who does which type of mental labour?
  • What are the outcomes of the unequal division of mental load –for women’s labour market outcomes, relationship quality/stability, and well-being outcomes for parents/children?

We invite
qualitative quantitative, and theoretical approaches that examine these and
related questions around the issue of mental load.


Please send
a short abstract (250 words) of your paper to Heejung Chung
by the 16th of October

We will
notify you of the selection by the 21st of October – with the final submission of
the panel by the 1st of November.

More about
the WFRN conference 2020 – in New York City, US – can be found here:

Tagged :

Can flexible working help reduce the gender pay gap?

September 12, 2019

In this video, Dr. Heejung Chung talks about how just by introducing flexible working policies will not help reduce the gender pay gap, and provides what needs to be done to ensure that it does enable better gender equality.

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Why the gender pay gap is an enduring challenge for many organisations

February 21, 2019

In April of 2018, large companies with over 250 employees were obliged to report their gender pay gap for the first time. Headlines that week were dominated by some of the surprise and shock of the extent to which women were paid less in majority of the companies reported, while for many women it just confirmed our hidden beliefs. There was a slight optimism, however, that there can only be progress. However, many companies who are reporting their new pay gap for this year show that rather than progress, many have increased their gaps. Why is this the case?

Read more »

Tagged : Barriers| Family-Friendly Policy| Flexible Working| Gender| gender role attitudes| ideal worker culture| long working hours| pay gap| shorter working week

Flexible working can reinforce gender stereotypes

January 22, 2019

Flexible working is becoming a must for many. One recent report found a quarter of UK workers have refused a job due to a lack of flexibility. This number jumps to 40% for millennial workers for whom work-life balance and flexible working is key when evaluating a job prospect.

Many hope that flexible working can help tackle the persistent gender pay gap. This is why the UK government announced a review of the right to flexible working in 2019 and the prime minister, Theresa May, said firms should strive to make it a reality for all staff, while urging companies to ensure women are better represented at senior levels. But my work with Tanja van der Lippe into the reality of how flexible working plays out shows that it can end up reinforcing gender stereotypes if cultural norms go unchecked.

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Tagged : Childcare| Flexible Working| Gender| Gender norms| National Context| occupational context| Outcomes| Schedule Control| Stigma| Work-Family Conflict| Work-Life Balance| Working Time

Flexible working stigma must end to ensure better use of flexible working

September 14, 2018

Research from Yougov shows that the majority of workers want to have some sort of flexibility in their work, with more than half wanting to deviate away from the traditional 9 to 5 routine. It has also been shown that just under half of workers are already working flexibly one way or another.

This echoes my findings based on the 2015 European Working Conditions Survey which found that just under 30% of workers in the UK have access to some sort of flexible schedules and 23% regularly work outside of their offices/at home. As today’s survey shows this type of flexibility helps workers better navigate between the demands of work and family life, which increases wellbeing, job satisfaction, motivation and loyalty towards the company eventually making them stay in the job longer. This in sum provides huge benefits for employers.

The benefits of flexible working for women are especially important – providing women with more control over when and where they work allows them to stay in employment and maintain their jobs/working hours after they have children. Furthermore, there is evidence that when men work flexibly it helps their partners/women’s career progression too. As such ensuring all workers with access to flexible working is crucial to tackle the ongoing gender wage gap issues in the UK.

However, there is increasing evidence that workers, especially men, are hesitant to ask for flexible working due to fears of repercussions on their career. My own research shows that more than 1/3 of workers feel that flexible workers make more work for others, and will result in negative outcomes for one’s career/promotion chances. This is largely due to the fact that our working culture is still one where long hours in the office is seen as a sign of commitment.

But with demand for flexible working high and abundant evidence for the business case for flexible working we need to tackle the flexibility stigma – i.e., the biases against those who work flexibly and change our notion of what productivity and commitment looks like. This will ensure flexible working works for all and achieves the benefits it can bring to both business and their staff.’

Tagged : Flexible Working| Flexitime| Outcomes| Stigma| United Kingdom| Work-Life Balance

This is why all jobs should be advertised as flexible

April 9, 2018

Flexible working for family reasons should be celebrated.


Why flexible working is key if shared parental leave is to have a lasting impact on the gender pay gap

Heejung Chung, University of Kent

All large companies in the UK have been rushing to report their gender pay gap by an April 5 deadline, when new rules came into force to tackle the stubborn gap between the salaries of men and women.

Motherhood is a key reason why this gender pay gap persists. Many women leave the labour market or move into part-time jobs after giving birth, which has a knock-on effect on their pay. This is partly due to conservative views regarding the division of labour in the UK, where most mothers take on the bulk of childcare and housework. Even when mothers choose to maintain their careers after childbirth, there can be an inherent bias towards them due to societal perceptions that they will prioritise their family over their work.

The best way to solve this problem is to ensure that fathers, or partners, are made to take on as much of a role in childcare as mothers. One way to do this is to give them the opportunity to spend time with their new-born babies, as well as to provide them with the opportunity to be more hands on later in the child’s life.

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Tagged : Childcare| Flexible Working| Gender| Gender Pay Gap| United Kingdom| Work-Life Balance

Women Aren’t Paid Less Because They Have More Flexible Jobs

February 7, 2018

They work in low-paying jobs because they have no other choice.

A recent study shows that the global gender pay gap has increased to 32 percent, and projects that at this rate, women will have to wait another 217 years for the pay gap to close. It’s not just your own gender, but the gender makeup of your workplace that predicts your wages. Workers in female-dominated workplaces have been shown to be paid less than other workers. An industry’s pay level even starts to decrease when women take over a male-dominated field.

Some argue that the low pay for women is justified by the fact that ‘women’s work’ is generally less strenuous/hazardless work compared to men’s work, and that, in exchange for lower wages, they have better working conditions—especially those that allow a better work-life balance. Some well-meaning scholars argue that women sometimes forego higher pay to have that flexibility in their jobs—an argument sometimes extended to suggest that women voluntarily “choose” lower paying jobs to facilitate their “life choices”—read: to take care of children.

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Want more women in top positions? Provide them with more flexibility at work

August 31, 2017

Heejung Chung, University of Kent

The recent BBC report on the pay of its top earners laid bare the disparities between men and women’s earnings. But it should come as no surprise. The gender pay gap has been stubbornly stagnant over the past decade. According to the EU (which calculates the gap based on hourly pay differences between men and women), men earn around 20% more. And the UK’s official statistics group, which calculates the pay gap of full-time earnings, men earn an average of about 10% more than women.

One core reason for this difference is the tendency for women to drop out of the labour market or move into (bad and low-paid) part-time jobs after having children. Employment data makes this clear.

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Tagged : Flexible Working| Flexitime| Gender| Part-Time| Remote Working| United Kingdom| Work-Family Conflict
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